Small bronze sculptures replicating the great masterpieces of ancient Rome are once again highly collectable artworks in the 21st century. But they are extremely rare and with few specialist dealers, a collector needs very deep pockets indeed to collect this form of art.
There was a time in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when small bronzes were highly fashionable and easily obtained from one of the many foundries in Italy, France, Germany and Great Britain. The popularity of small bronze sculptures as a decorative item in the home spread from Europe to the States at this time. Replicas of Roman gods and goddesses, nude bathing women and nude Nubians standing guard ranged from 15cm to 2 metres high. They were a genre of art where nudity was acceptable in a time when modesty was generally the norm.
From the earliest imitations of Roman sculptures, the range of pieces available grew to include exquisitely made miniatures of works by Michelangelo, Rodin, Hussmann, Lord Leighton, Alfred Gilbert and many, many others.
With the rise of Art Deco in the 1920’s, the creation of small bronzes began to die out and their popularity declined steadily until the Victoria and Albert Museum in London held an exhibition of Italian bronze statuettes in 1961. With over 200 miniature bronzes from the 15th to the 18th century on display, the exhibition generated new interest in this genre of art and a new generation of collectors arose. Prices increased a thousand-fold in the twenty years from the beginning of the 1960’s. This unpredicted rise in values also led to a specialist market to supply the bronzes from collections that had lain in obscurity for over 50 years.
One of the most popular small bronze replicas is that of the statue of Laocoön and His Sons. The original is a huge marble sculpture housed in the Vatican Museum. It depicts the Trojan priest Laocoön and his sons being strangled by sea serpents. Other typical sculptures in renowned collections of bronzes would almost certainly include a pair of highly decorated vases depicting Roman history, goddesses such as Diana or Ariadne, nude male figures, either alone or with a victim. These male figures would have rippling muscles and expressive body language, although not necessarily expressive faces. Examples would be Hercules wrestling to the death with Antaeus, Samson slaying a Philistine or David and the fallen Goliath. And maybe a Christ carrying the cross or Apollo slaying a python. Such bronzes come from a wide range of different sculptors with different technical and artistic skills and from widely varying dates and countries but the themes are all common to the genre.